Remain ever calm within. Be even-minded. When working, be calmly active. Someday, you will know yourself to be subject no longer to the tides of Destiny. Your strength will come from within; you will not depend on outer incentives of any kind for motivation. – Paramhansa Yogananda
Have you ever been on a ship, traveling during a storm, with the bow crashing against the waves? It is not the most pleasant of experiences. Traveling one time, I decided to spend the night in the front part of the ship, the bow. The sea was somewhat agitated but I simply (and unsuspectingly) lay down on a couch in the lounge area. As the ship left the shore, the waves became more and more agitated. Soon I was rising and falling with the bow of ship; one meter up, then one meter down. One meter up, then one meter down. I felt so nauseous that I could not move, I could not see what was happening around me, all I could do was pray desperately to God not to die. In fact, ever since then I’ve felt slightly nauseous when traveling on windy roads (talk about creating karma). My biggest mistake lay in the fact that I choose to sleep at the bow, at the periphery of the ship. If I had been in the middle, or the center of the ship, the movement would have been much softer.
This is a good metaphor for how karma works in our lives. Swami Kriyananda said “Calm feeling is intuition. When feeling becomes agitated, however, or excited, it creates emotional waves that distort mental vision, causing a person to lose touch with objective reality.”
We all experience periods of intense inner struggle. A karmic bomb explodes and suddenly we find ourselves figuratively (or literally) without a floor beneath our feet. The way karma works is to draw us out of our center and get trapped in a vortex of disturbed emotions from which it is impossible to see or act clearly. If we are able to remain in that calm center within ourselves, as if in the eye of the storm, no matter how great a trial or how difficult the situation, it has no power over us, because it cannot touch who we truly are within.
“Calmness is more dynamic and more powerful than peace. Calmness gives the devotee power to overcome all obstacles in life. Even in human affairs, the person who can remain calm under all circumstances is invincible.” – Paramhansa Yogananda
It is interesting to note that on the level of our subtle, astral anatomy, karma literally manifests as a whirlpool of energy or vritti of disturbed feeling which draws energy into itself and then out from our center.
Think of a whirlpool though, or even better, think of a mighty tornado, uprooting trees, houses, cars… at it’s center, at it’s heart, there is no movement, it is completely still. And in that stillness, there is perfect freedom, perfect calmness in spite of the destruction all around. In that stillness, our view of everything around us, though spinning and turning at great speed, remains undistorted.
And just as there is great power in that tornado when it comes from a still center there is great power in our actions when we act from that calmness, from that point of contact with God’s presence within us. One is reminded of the story of St. Antony of the dessert who was called from his seclusion after decades of seeing no one, of being only in God’s inner presence to settle a dispute of whether Jesus was human or divine. St. Antony came into the hall, full of people shouting and fighting over the issue, walked up to where he was supposed to speak and simply said “I have seen Him.”. At his words there was complete silence, nobody could doubt what he said because everyone felt the great divine power flowing from his direct perception of truth. He did not shout, but spoke from that center of Divine Calmness within which like a sword cut through the disturbed and agitated emotions around him.
The best way Yogananda said to meet our karmic tests is pleasantly. “Be calmly active, and actively calm. That is the way of the yogi.” The more the storm rages around us, the more we have to learn to remain anchored in that calmness.
Here are some practical ways to infuse calmness into our lives and go from karma-mess to calmness:
- Do not speak when disturbed: It is not always easy (or possible) to remain calm. When we get upset, the first level of learning to remain calm is to control the outward expression of it. Even if you are angry or upset, do not speak. Try to breathe deeply, do the 20 body parts recharging, pray, affirm, do japa, change environment… in other words, find ways to calm the feeling and not react outwardly. When feeling becomes calm try to understand how you can act and respond to the situation appropriately.
- Give it to God: This might not seems like a practical advice, but is really the most practical of all. When we offer our challenges, mistakes, joys, and lives to God, it opens the door to His grace just as a window opens a house to sunlight. A way in which we can do this is to mentally build a fire in our spiritual eye, the points between the eyebrows and offer into that fire, that light, that presence anything that disturbs our feeling. When Swami Kriyananda was a young monk, he practiced this constantly during the day, feeling great inner joy and freedom. Once, during that period, Anandamayi Ma, a great indian saint told him ‘tomar bhav bhot sundar he’ – your spiritual attitude is very beautiful.
- Practice patience: Acording to Yogananda “Patience is the art of keeping the inner mental calmness unwavering, even when trying to free the body or mind from the invasion of remedial or incurable sensations of cold and heat, pleasure and pain.” Most of the time, when something happens, we immediately react, running around like a headless chicken trying to solve the problem. How seldom we stop to attune ourselves to calmness, to God first. Next time this happens try to use this tool Yogananda gave: Tense your whole body until it vibrates, trapping the negative emotion in that tension. Then throw the breath out, and without breathing in for a few moments focus deeply on the stillness in the spiritual eye, trying to penetrate through that point into that stillness. Then as you breathe in, try to fill your brain with calmness.
- Go to the calm center of feeling: Swami Kriyananda gave a technique for calming disturbed feeling which can be used in meditation but can also be used in our daily lives: “Plumb the depths of intuitive perception within you, at the calm center of your own heart. If any restless or disturbing feelings arise there, withdraw deeper still – to the very center of feeling, as if to the calm eye of a storm. As any period on this page might be reduced indefinitely in size, even to the point of becoming invisible under the strongest microscope, without ever ceasing to exist, so there is no limit to how deeply you can withdraw into the center of your being. Try to find the innermost center of intuitive perception in your heart. If you experience the slightest disturbance, go deeper still. Finally, you will enter a vast hall of calmness.”
- Ask for guidance: This might seem almost banal, but how often do we remember to ask for help, especially inner guidance: for understanding, for the strength to overcome, for power to remain calm. Concentrate on the spiritual eye and ask God for a solution – it will come. “In any controversy, test the rightness of your stand by the way it affects your deeper feelings. Such feelings can be trusted, as the ever-fickle emotions can never be. Calm, joyful feelings will steer you aright. Calm feeling is the safest condition for receiving right guidance.” Swami Kriyananda
- Of course, meditate: Meditation is the practice that establishes and deepens our daily contact with the Divine from which all calmness comes. Try to deepen your meditation in this coming week. Meditate longer, deeper, with new inspiration, with more devotion or dedication – it will change everything.
The more we learn to live in calmness, the more our consciousness will transform, and the more that calmness will transform all those who touch it. In Yogananda’s words:
If you want to live in peace and harmony, affirm divine calmness and peace, and send out only thoughts of love and goodwill. Live a godly life and the mere contact with you will help everyone who crosses your path.